May 24, 2019

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Juiced up

Outstanding doc overcomes O.J. overload

SUPPLIED</p><p>O.J. Simpson in his college football days at USC.</p>

SUPPLIED

O.J. Simpson in his college football days at USC.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/6/2016 (1077 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There are probably a lot of people whose reaction to promo spots for this weekend’s première of O.J.: Made in America was something along the lines of, “Enough already with the O.J. Simpson stuff.”

After all, it has only been a few weeks since FX’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson finished its 10-episode run. And as excellent as that scripted series was, it demanded a large chunk of viewers’ time as it delved deep into the behind-the-scenes machinations and ego clashes of the infamous Simpson murder trial.

But if you count yourself among the “Enough already” crowd and are inclined to take a pass on O.J.: Made in America (which premières tonight at 8 p.m on ABC and CTV), you should know skipping this five-part ESPN-produced series will mean missing one of the best documentary projects ever shown on mainstream network television.

It is, to phrase it directly, stunningly good TV.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/6/2016 (1077 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There are probably a lot of people whose reaction to promo spots for this weekend’s première of O.J.: Made in America was something along the lines of, "Enough already with the O.J. Simpson stuff."

After all, it has only been a few weeks since FX’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson finished its 10-episode run. And as excellent as that scripted series was, it demanded a large chunk of viewers’ time as it delved deep into the behind-the-scenes machinations and ego clashes of the infamous Simpson murder trial.

But if you count yourself among the "Enough already" crowd and are inclined to take a pass on O.J.: Made in America (which premières tonight at 8 p.m on ABC and CTV), you should know skipping this five-part ESPN-produced series will mean missing one of the best documentary projects ever shown on mainstream network television.

It is, to phrase it directly, stunningly good TV.

Written and directed by Emmy and Peabody award winner Ezra Edelman under the banner of ESPN’s 30 for 30 franchise, O.J.: Made in America is an exhaustively researched and meticulously detailed project whose ambitions extend far beyond revisiting, yet again, the events, personalities and controversies associated with the so-called Trial of the (20th) Century.

Instead, Edelman seeks to use the whole of the Simpson story — early life, athletic promise, football career, pursuit of celebrity status, marriages, womanizing and domestic violence, murder trial and post-verdict decline and incarceration — as a backdrop for a much larger examination of American culture and race relations in southern California’s law enforcement and judicial systems.

The filmmaker conducted 72 on-camera interviews, including childhood friends of Simpson, former football teammates, Hollywood figures and business acquaintances, retired LAPD detectives and several lawyers who were directly involved in the murder trial. And because Made in America has such a long running time (more than eight hours in all), Edelman is able to let his subjects speak at length about their various involvements in the Simpson saga.

(After Saturday’s première, U.S. viewers will have to migrate to ESPN for subsequent instalments, but Canadian rights-holder CTV has opted to air the rest of the series on its main network on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 18, with episodes repeated on TSN throughout the week and the entire series becoming available for streaming on Crave TV on July 29).

The murder case and high-profile trial don’t actually become central to Made in America’s narrative until well into the third instalment; before he gets to those parts of the story, Edelman delves deep into Simpson’s impoverished upbringing in San Francisco, his rise as a high school and college athlete and his determined effort to use his football career as a springboard to much greater wealth and fame.

Simpson is shown to be ruthlessly ambitious and self-focused, uninterested in using his status to advance African-American rights issues and possessed of a sense of entitlement that would prove toxic (and eventually deadly) in his relationships with women.

On a parallel track, the film also examines the long history of racial injustice inflicted upon L.A.’s black population by that city’s police force and court system. Several specific incidents — most notably, the shooting of African-American widow Eula Love and the infamous Rodney King beating — are discussed in detail to provide context to the Simpson trial, which eventually became a referendum on racism in L.A. rather than simply a double-homicide trial in which the evidence against the accused was overwhelming.

The middle section of the documentary series focuses, of course, on the part of the Simpson story with which people are most familiar. But what’s interesting about Made in America is that even when it’s dealing with events that were covered in a seemingly around-the-clock fashion during what still surely ranks as the biggest media circus of all time, this film turns up footage and perspectives that are both surprising and newly enlightening.

Made in America also extends its reach far beyond the trial and its controversial not guilty verdict, examining the more recent events that landed Simpson in the prison cell he currently occupies. In the end, it’ll be up to viewers to decide whether this is a story with a just ending, but there’s no disputing a subject that might have prompted eye-rolling moans of "Enough!" has been approached with such skill and dedication it demands to be revisited one more time.

But after this... really, enough, already.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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